160 2nd Ave, East Village
Cafe Centosette was once among a handful of East Village cafes that I’d visit on a regular basis. The candlelit brick, cavernous interior used to provide respite from the bitter cold after an evening of off-off Broadway theater or taking in a movie at one of the nearby cinemas. In the summer and early fall it would regale me with hours of colorful people watching over coffee and a pretty good piece of frutti di bosco (wild berry) cake at its sidewalk tables.
The appetizer fare and pizzas that I would frequently order to quell my late night nibbling urges were typically rewarding in both quality and taste. But for almost a year now, I have noticed a steady decline in the caliber of the ingredients at Centosette. The above-average to average standards in quality and preparation no longer seem to abide there. Rather they have descended from mediocre to sub-standard, at best.
Most recently, when a friend and I visited after a play at the Theater for the New City (click here to read my review of it in Downtown Express), we ordered two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and decided to accompany the wine with a cutting board of salumi and formaggi and an endive and arugula salad. The salad arrived first and was accompanied by a scrimpy plate of thin, flat focaccia wedges. Although, the salad was excessively dressed, the greens were fresh and the portion was decent.
Immediately following was the most ghastly cutting board of charcuterie that I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing, let alone seeing, in a restaurant.
The overly-thick, desiccated prosciutto slices were hard on the edges, rubbery in the center and overly-salted. It was as though they’d been laying on that wooden board since the lunch shift. The bressaola was tough and oily and had no flavor whatsoever. As to the Genoa salami, the adjective that would most accurately describe it is “revolting.” From the excessively pale and fatty color of the meat, I knew it wouldn’t be good, but decided to sample it anyway. It was like biting into plastic that had been interwoven with waxen lipid molecules.
Centosette’s charcuterie would have made Kraft Oscar Meyer lunch meats look and taste like gourmet. A part from the fact that my palate signaled a revolt that reverberated all through my digestive tract and back and taking another bite of the cutting board slices was physically impossible for me, I deemed that platter inedible and let the server know it. The server was neither surprised, nor forthcoming with reparative recommendations. My friend suggested that we share a pizza instead.
We ordered a pizza fresca, which was supposed to be topped with marinated pearl tomatoes, arugula, ricotta and parmesan. A part from the fact that the pie was sparsely covered with any of the supposed ingredients that made it “fresca,” the parmesan was substituted with some bad domestic version of grana padano. As the photo clearly indicates, much too much of the pie was devoid of toppings or condiment, extending the exposure of barren crust well beyond the edges and toward the center. In and of itself, this is not always a bad thing, especially if the pizza dough contains some seasoning or condiment. But that was clearly not the case here and the crust was dry and flavorless. While the crust was cooked well, it was brittle and it crumbled upon contact. Not only was the texture of the crust unenjoyable, but it was so light that it gave you the empty feeling that you had hardly eaten.
Adding insult to injury was the fact that our server had the audacity of presenting us a check that included the charges for the charcuterie. Our vociferous protests warranted a conversation with the manager and our charges were duly dismissed.
Centosette’s multiple shortcomings add up to more than an unsavory culinary experience. Its poor food quality and preparation are characteristics that are unoverlookable and soundly disqualifying. And in an era in which the number of independently-owned cafes have been in free-fall, it signals a loss indeed.